Sometimes when you’re on a holiday, the biggest blessing is to have it go on indefinitely (with the vacation never ceasing to exist). Olivia and Raul De Freitas, a couple honeymooning in the Maldives have found themselves in a seemingly serendipitous incident owing to the lockdown. This is their story. By Bayar Jain
It’s often considered something straight out of a fantasy to be stranded on an island, but for Olivia and Raul De Freitas, the impossible seems to have become a blissful reality as they find isolated at a five-star resort in the Maldives during their honeymoon. Home to innumerable tiny islands and azure blue waters, the tiny nation in the Indian Ocean has teased tourists for romantic gateways for years. As the pandemic rises, however, the islands are left desolate and empty, barring the couple.
How did they get stranded there?
The newly married couple arrived at the Maldives from South Africa on March 22 with the intention of staying for six days. The vacation, to them, was meant to be a chance to get to know each other and double as a segue to their married life ahead as they hadn’t lived with each other prior to the wedding.
Considering travel restrictions had already started to seep into the global scenario by then, the two had concerns about their trip. However, until then, nothing that could specifically affect them had been announced and their travel agent assured that irrespective of the forthcoming policies, South African citizens would be allowed to return. With this positivity in their mind, they set sail for their romantic sojourn.
Three days into their stay, however, their home country’s airports were declared shut starting March 26. Scrambling back home, too, would be of no use as a five-hour journey to Doha, Qatar, followed by a three-hour-layover and a nine-hour flight to Johannesburg wouldn’t allow them to reach home-ground on time. Lucky for the others staying in the resort, though, time was by their side and they managed to escape the island. The last of the lot — Americans — had to seek special permission to catch a flight to Russia before returning to the States.
De Freitas, too, tried leaving the resort and trying their luck at the airport by taking an hour-and-a-half speedboat ride to the main island. By then, Maldives had announced a lockdown, banning any new foreign travellers into the islands. This meant that if the couple left the resort, the assurance of a guaranteed stay back in again was missing. Thus, they stayed.
Their hope of leaving didn’t end there though. The couple reached out to the South African Consulate in the country, and the closest South African Embassy in Sri Lanka, for help. Revert from the embassies came back stating that about 40 other South Africans have been stranded too and the only way to return is by hiring a chartered jet (at their own expense) for USD 104,000. Splitting the cost between all those stranded was the only way out. Unfortunately, the government, connected with only half of the people, of which many couldn’t afford to pay or refused to cough up the heavy sum. The fewer the number of people on board, the more expensive each share would become. Even so, after several days of discussions between South African representatives and the Maldivian Foreign Ministry, the flight still hadn’t been approved.
By this time of the year, the resort is usually at full capacity, catering up to 180 guests. Since the resort spans across the island, the newlyweds reign the sands there. Due to the government’s regulations stating that Maldivians aren’t allowed to leave resorts until they undergo a quarantine after their last guests leave, the resort is forcibly working with a full staff at hand. With nothing else to do, the staff caters to the couple ceaselessly. Their “room boy” checks on them five times a day. Once, the dining crew even made them an elaborate candlelit dinner on the beach. Every night performers still put on a show for them in the resort’s grand dining hall. At breakfast, nine waiters loiter by their table. The couple has a designated server, but others still come by to chat during meals, offering constant refills of their drinks. The diving instructor pleads with them to go snorkelling whenever they pass him by. “We’ve started playing a lot of table tennis and snooker,” Ms De Freitas says in another report. Mr De Freitas has also taken to joining staff soccer games in the afternoons.
Despite the fun and games, their extended stay at the resort has burdened their finances. Though the couple has been paying a generously discounted rate, each passing day trickles down their savings that had been set aside for a house down payment.
The Way Forward
As of April 5, the couple finally got a response from the government giving the two an hour’s notice to pack their bags and take a speedboat to another resort; a resort where other South Africans are being consolidated. Their return journey, however, still lacks a final date.